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Planes and Trains- Transportation Updates
AIR- Redding gets a grant. Redding has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the Dept of Transportation in the form of a revenue guarantee to help SkyWest defray the cost of replacing their current turboprop (Embraer Brasilia) service with Canadair Regional Jets, according to the Redding Searchlight Record. The grant requires a $50K match and does NOT guarantee that jets will return to Redding but is a necessary first step in that direction. SkyWest recently pulled out of Modesto and is discontinuing service to Chico in December.
RAIL-HSR is on the way. The California High-Speed Rail Authority took the first step toward actually buying trains, opening bids for a billion-dollar contract to build trains and maintenance facilities. Siemens, which has a location in Sacramento, will be among the bidders, and interest from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers is expected to be strong. The specs are that the trains must be able to deliver passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours. If Siemens prevails, the economic benefits to the Sacramento area would be substantial.
MORE RAIL– The Economist reminds us that HSR is nothing new, in fact it’s been around for 50 years, just kinda slow in coming to California. Fifty years ago this week the Osaka-Tokyo line commenced operations and has “since whisked 5.6 billion passengers across the country without a single serious accident. Punctuality? The average delay is less than a minute.” Japan’s HSR, at 200 mph, is actually pokey compared with China’s Shanghai maglev (430 kph) or the maglev being developed to update the Tokyo-Osaka run to a speedy 500 kph, about an hour’s time. This will cost $47B, but the Japanese have a government that is willing to invest in infrastructure.
STILL MORE RAIL– Closer to home, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate court found that the North Coast Railroad Authority and its partner the Northwestern Pacific Railroad can expand freight service without further environmental review. Specifically, the panel found that freight rail traffic is interstate commence and not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act. The envronmental groups that brought the suit, Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, had not announced at press time whether they would appeal. The NCRA’s next step is to raise $5M to rehabilitate the tracks between Windsor and Cloverdale and to recruit customers for the freight service between Napa and Windsor which currently runs twice a week.
News From All Over
Here are some factoids with which to tickle your brain.
TOURISM- As the HSU survey in our last post pointed out, tourism stats are down in Humboldt County. However, our friends in Redding are feeling the same pain, according to the Searchlight -Record, no link available. Isn’t it puzzling or are tourists staying away because of the drought and fires?
CHINA- University of California officials have made no less than 20- that’s TWENTY- trips to China so far this year to woo Chinese students with their lucrative out-of-state tuition payments. Oh, yeah, they’re smart too. And haven’t fried their brains on drugs.
APPLE- now has 2500 workers in their Elk Grove location which started as a distribution center but is now hiring folks who wouldn’t know what a forklift looks like. 89 current vacancies, including one for “Mandarin Team Manager”.
100 OBJECTS- The State of South Carolina, which has imho the slickest tourism of any state, is sponsoring a promotion of “100 Objects” in Orangeburg County ranging from battlegrounds, old schools, gravestones, gardens etc. It’s sort of like “101 Things To Do on the North Coast” combined with a historical scavenger hunt. Any community could adopt this promotion except we’d have to lose the bland word “objects”. “Prizes?” “Treasures?” OK, I can see why they settled for “objects”. Still a good gimmick for a promotion.
SHERLOCK HOLMES- the stories by A Conan Doyle have fallen into public domain. Those of you who always thought you had a future writing screenplays, have at it.
OBAMA- one of his biggest financial supporters is the CEO of COSTCO.
OLIVES- due to the drought, this year’s olive crop is going to be down 45% from last year. Martini drinkers might want to stock up bigtime.
OYSTERS- Rumor has it that a major Marin County oyster producer will start operations in Humboldt Bay.
That’s all, folks, for this week. Stay safe and far away from the fires.
“Fighting Intensifies Following Election”
My heart sank when I read this. It CAN’T get any worse, can it? Then I realized I was reading about Ukraine. Here, to give you something to think about besides the elections are accounts of two meetings in the last 48 hours, the County Airport Advisory Committee and the Humboldt Harbor Working Group. On the latter website, look up at the banner and click on “Community Forums” to see what’s coming up.
The Airport group meets on the 4th Tuesday of each month, currently at the Prosperity Center, 520 E Street. Eureka. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description because they have a very competent secretary, Mr. Fenton, who provides minutes of the meetings, so here’s just a few of the juicier items that came up.
-The Quest For Another Carrier. A small delegation from ACV ( Gregg Foster and Emily Jacobs, according to the Fly Humboldt Facebook page) staff will travel to Edmonton for a meeting on June 3 with THREE major airlines. These meetings were described as something like Shark Tank with numbers and load factors being bandied about. Apparently we were the only small airport to get meetings with THREE possibles, so that’s good work. This is against a backdrop of United cutting service to Vegas and cutting a Portland route which also serviced Eugene. Not specifically addressed at the meeting but clearly on everyone’s mind was trend by UAL and other majors to dump their low-volume routes in favor of jumbo jets (the “Dreamliner”) carrying big crowds to big cities. We wish the ACV folks well in Edmonton. If you’ve ever been there, you know they’re not going for fun.
-Infrastructure issues at ACV are going to be critical as the new Courthouse spurs expansion. Right now there isn’t even a safe way for pedestrians to get from the Holiday Inn to the airport without running across Airport Road with their baggage and limited visibility. HCOAG was at the meeting yesterday to present their initial plan for ground access. This will be a high priority since killing tourists is bad for business. The remarks was made that “We have so many needs, and not much money.” The word “insurance” was used at least 30 times during the meeting, just another factor in a complex operation. They will be working with Moser Properties to develop safe pedestrian and bus access
-The FAA is not the easiest agency to work with.
-The proposal to rename the airport the gawdawful “California Redwood Coast -Humboldt County Airport” is alive and well and the Committee will be writing to the BOS and to Jared Huffman soon for backing. Those of us who want to stop this abomination should act quickly. This County has already provided enough fodder for the late-nite comedians. Maybe the FAA will save us from ourselves.
EAST-WEST CONNECT- Ryan Burns was at the sparsely-attended Harbor group meeting and provided his usual excellent reportage on LOCO so I won’t duplicate him, not that I could. Bottom line is they’re looking for $300,000 for another study and have already been turned down by CALTRANS. This will be a long slog, but I’m a north-south advocate, so what do I know?
The Timber Heritage Association-Sleeping Giant in Samoa
The last time I went to one of the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group’s monthly community forums I noted how downspirited everyone was after listening to an hour of “no”. No, the east-west train doesn’t pencil out. No, there isn’t enough identified freight to make it work. No, no, no. Yesterday’s meeting was completely different. The Timber Heritage Association reminded us that there are FEASIBLE projects to bring more jobs and more tourists, and everyone left in a good mood. There ‘s a lot of work ahead, but as someone said, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.
(In view of the NCJ column by Marcy Burstiner regarding Brown Act violations, let me clarify that the meetings I attend on the fourth Wednesday of each month are the HBHWG’s PUBLIC forums and are not an inter-agency advisory committee subject to the Brown Act. I do not attend the AHHA , don’t intend to , don’t know if anything will come of it. The monthly forums are strictly informational, usually worth attending and represent a lot of hard work by Susanna Munzell and her committee. Glad we got that straightened out.)
Back to the THA which since 1977 has worked hard for a railroad museum and a round-the -Bay tourist train, and is shortly starting its summer schedule of speeder rides (if you haven’t been on one, speeders are crew cars that look kind of like a caboose.) They run from the Samoa Cookhouse on a short run, only 20 minutes or so but by God, it’s a train ride. Your kids will love it and so will you. The speeder rides are in Samoa four times a year, in Old Town Eureka twice, in Fortuna for the Apple Harvest Days and and have recently started runs in Loleta (check the schedules on the website.) The steam train rides at Ft Humboldt are all done by THA volunteers during the summer months. By now it should be clear that the THA is a major refuge for train nuts (like me) and they have rolling stock scattered around the county until a real museum can be organized. If you have never ventured down the road behind the Cookhouse, go check it out. They have several train cars right there, all of which are worthy of preservation.
Pete Johnston, who delivered the excellent presentation, pointed out that the Skunk is the major tourist attraction in Mendocino now and if we had a train museum and an opportunity for a train ride, that would be enough to get tourists to stop HERE, rather than shooting past us to Bend or other places with train-related attractions. Did you know the Samoa roundhouse is one of only four on the entire West Coast? That the THA is sustained by 6000 hours of volunteer labor a year? That’s dedication and one day it will benefit the entire county.
So go ride the speeders and support the THA. I’ve donated before but never joined up but I have now, just wrote them a check for $25 and if I can do it , you can, and should. They have a couple of fundraisers coming up and last year the Salmon, Oysters Ales and Rails BBQ in August was completely sold out (500 tickets.) Trains have been a big part of Humboldt County history and if the THA has its way they will be a part of its future, as well. .
Some Interesting Numbers for Redwood Coast Businesspeople
Here’s some food for thought. You might see a few surprises.
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN HUMBOLDT COUNTY(January): 7.9%
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN SAN FRANCISCO: 4.8%
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN MEXICO: 4.76% (December 2013) (Time Magazine) Yes, Mexico!
SHASTA COUNTY MEDIAN HOME PRICE JAN 2014: $180K (DataQuick)
HUMBOLDT COUNTY MEDIAN HOME PRICE JAN 2014: $247K (HAR)
CREEPYIEST CREDIT CARD: Capitol One, which according to the LA Times, recently sent its cardholders a contract renewal authorizing the com[any to contact its cardholders by any means including visits to home and workplace, and gives permission to “modify or suppress Caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”
MINIMUM WAGE PROPOSED by LA lawmakers for employees in large hotels: $15.37/hour.
APPLE Computer now has more stores in Shanghai than in San Francisco. (Economist)
CHINA’S $3.3 TRILLION consumer economy is about 8% of the total, and is likely soon to overtake Japan as the world’s second-biggest consumer. Half of the world’s new shopping malls are being built in China. (Economist).
MOST CONGESTED HIGHWAY IN CALIFORNIA: I-5 in LA County. “In 2012 alone, vehicles spent an extra 6.6 MILLION hours on the road, due to heavy traffic.” (LAT).
PERCENTAGE OF AMERICANS WHO BELIEVE THE SUN GOES AROUND THE EARTH: 26% (National Science Foundation).
A February Potpourri- No, Not That Kind of Pot
I thought that flu shot was supposed to save me from the shivers, shakes and runny nose that has kept me inside all week, but I guess that was a different strain. This week you’re getting some stories from near and far that Redwood Coast businesses, citizens and consumers may find of interest.
3-D PRINTING HITS REDDING: Both Shasta High School and Enterprise High School have purchased and deployed MakerBot Replicator2 machines at $2300 each and students are experimenting with them right now. We know they’re being used in biotech and and architectural design but I just saw a statement that they’re being used in the CULINARY field but it didn’t explain how. Well, you could design a heckova wedding cake with one of these things, and at $2300 they’re definitely affordable. Shasta High is using them to make team souvenirs, for starters.
TONIGHT SHOW LEAVING BURBANK: and taking 160 well-paying jobs with it. About three years ago, we were having lots of exposure on the show because apparently one of the producers fell in love with Humboldt. Remember Tom Green and the guy in Old Town swinging the firepot around? Green named Duane Flatmo the Most Interesting Person in California. I don’t think Jimmy Fallon is going to show us that kind of love. Hopefully Jimmy Kimmel can be lured up here and shown the light.
JANUARY HUMBOLDT ECONOMIC INDEX: From those wonderful people at HSU, shows the median home price creeping back up again, from last month’s $234K to $247K, and home sales the strongest since July 2005. Our county unemployment rate is currently 7.9%, California’s is 8.3% and national is down to 6.7%. Here’s the complete update and I’m going back to bed to watch Pawn Stars. Stay warm and dry. It’s apparently going to be a dreadful weekend.
Housing Prices, Location Filming , Homelessness, Rain and the Harbor
HOUSING PRICES: The December Humboldt Economic Index published a couple of weeks ago showed a dip in County housing prices that would be pretty scary if it continues, but it probably won’t. Median home prices in Humboldt fell from $264K to $234K, but not to worry. Dr. Erick Eschker of the HSU Economics Department advises that the figures should be read as a four-month moving average and provided an additional graph that shows the dramatic shift since 2006 and the slow upswing we are now experiencing. The Index of Home Sales is 24.3% higher than at this time last year, which is nice.
FILM/TV INCENTIVES : The Economist (Jan 17) reports that Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles has appointed Tom Sherak, “an old industry hand” to lobby in Sacramento for the city’s interests in luring the industry back to LA. Film and TV production in California has been decimated by the grander film subsidies and incentives offered by other states. New Mexico and Louisiana have been particularly aggressive, and California was particularly late in realizing that they needed to get into the incentive game also. Mr Sherak may find this a difficult year in which to persuade the legislators of the urgency, with so many other unfunded needs. Humboldt County, by the way, is doing well, even in the rain. Cassandra Hesseltine, our Humboldt-DelNorte Film Commissioner, reports that filming locally has become a year-round activity in the last couple of years, not limited to the “good weather”. She says the right now crews are in town filming a print ad and a reality show, about which she didn’t want to say too much but it wounds like a well-known hairy creature from Willow Creek is involved. Let’s wish Mr Sherak well in his new job. Film is definitely one of our strengths.
HOMELESSNESS DOWN, NOT UP: Considering all the focus on homelessness lately, I am amazed that so little attention has been paid to Daniel Mintz’ excellent piece in the Mad River Union which gives some good solid numbers to think about (Eureka’s homeless count was 1100 in 2011, 650 now). This is a problem which will never be solved without clarity on the extent of the problem. Sadly, 37 homeless students were identified in the Northern Humboldt Area.
HUMBOLDT BAY HARBOR WORKING GROUP: Maybe it was the rain, but the Group’s meeting on Wednesday was the most downbeat I have attended. Three speakers discussed short-sea shipping and were refreshingly honest. Most of our lumber goes to LA, and we can’t even fill a barge from up here. The labor doesn’t pencil out either. The Harbor Commission study on the East-West rail initiative was definitely putting a damper on the proceedings as without East-West, or even with it, it appears that at present we just don’t have enough cargo to make it short-sea shipping worthwhile, and a Walmart center in Gerber won’t do it either. I personally feel that the old North-South rail route is a much better idea and could not only move freight but revitalize the tourist and rental car businesses, but what do I know?
Happy Lunar New Year! See you next week.
The Winter of Our Discontent-Trains to Vancouver, NVB is Sold and the Chinese are Coming, and Coming and Coming
Well, here we are in late January, freezing to death, looking at a drought and coming off a lousy crab season. There IS good news- getting to someplace even colder is now easier.
TRAIN SERVICE BETWEEN EUGENE AND VANCOUVER, B.C.- it’s begun, and it’s a ten to twelve-hour trip with inconvenient departures although the website states in several places that the schedules are to be adjusted in the near future. The new Cascades line overlaps in places with the Coast Starlight, so don’t get them confused while reading the schedules.The State of Oregon bought the two trains with stimulus money and each carries 286 passengers, bicycle storage, outlets, wi-fi etc. The trains were built by Talgo, the US subsidiary of a Spanish company. The multinationals seem to have more faith in US rail than do the Neanderthals running Amtrak. Look at what Siemens is doing in Sacramento: building something like 30 locomotives of which two will end up on the West Coast (and creating thousands of good jobs). I hope to take this train over the summer but as you all know getting to Eugene from here involves either a four-hour drive and finding a place to stash your car OR a tortuous three-bus ride from Arcata to Redding then hooking up with the Starlight to Eugene. The best train seems to be the one that leaves Eugene at 2pm because it’s ALL TRAIN, no long bus rides. It’s a 10 hour ride, all the amenities are promised, including a lounge car, and the fare is as low as $73. Ticket sales are healthy and the State of Oregon did two smart things with this $38M purchase: they bought rolling stock designed to handle the higher speeds if/when high-speed rail becomes an option and they planned ahead of time for increased demand in 2017 when service increases between Seattle and Tacoma. Check out their website– even the food menus look good. The North Coast Journal (Dec 12, 2013) did an excellent summary of the hassles involved in trying to get to Portland from here. Every little bit helps. And if you go all the way to Vancouver, don’t forget your passport (or birth certificate and photo I.D.)
NORTH VALLEY BANK PURCHASED BY TRI COUNTIES: Effective in mid-2014, some of us will be sending our mortgage payments to Chico-based Tri Counties Bank, a merger that will result in a combined workforce of 1100 employees, and a network of banks stretching from Crescent City to Bakersfield. With $3.5B in assets, $3.1B in deposits, $2.2B in gross loans, and 80 branch offices, the new Tri Counties Bank will be the 26th largest in the State. The banks have issued the usual disclaimers about how this change will be painless to customers.
CHINESE TOURISM TO U.S. TO TRIPLE BY 2020: As I prepared to enter the China Buffet in Eureka, a group of Chinese diners emerged and zeroed right in on me. (They always do- I must look helpful.) None of them including their driver spoke much more English than I do Chinese, but they knew what they wanted. “Redwood Park”, they kept saying. “Redwood Park”. Their van was labelled “Joy Tours:” but it was getting dark and I couldn’t figure out whether they would get more joy going south to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, or north to the National Park so I pointed them north, figuring they’d get a kick out of Paul Bunyan at Trees of Mystery. The next day I called Tony Smithers at the HCCVB and asked him about Joy Tours. He was aware of them but apparently the bureau has not specific outreach to Asian visitors.
I suspect that will be changing in the future. 1.5M mainland Chinese visited the US in 2012 and their numbers are expected to reach 5.7M by 2020. California is the most popular destination, followed by New York. Relaxed visa restriction and rising household income are fueling the growth. The LA Times reports that Chines tourism to LA rose 21% in last year and that “Chinese tourists are the second biggest-spending foreign visitors to the U.S. – just behind Indians and ahead of Australians, Brazilians and Japanese- with a average budget of $4400 not including airfare.” Meanwhile, U.S. hotels are not well-equipped for Chinese visitors, especially in terms of Mandarin-speaking staff and Chinese dietary needs. The Chinese tend to stay longer than other tourists (42 nights average) and 36% are here for conventions or business meetings. Talk about a bonanza being dropped in our laps! Gung Hay Fat Choi, everyone. And a Happy Year of the Horse.
REMINDER: Next Friday, January 31 is the deadline for applying for the Fisherman’s Terminal restaurant opportunity, details in our last week’s issue.
The Week in North Coast Business- A Golden Opportunity on the Waterfront; More Airport News
FISHERMAN’S TERMINAL RESTAURANT/MARKET
Ever wanted to run a restaurant?
Check this out: “The City of Eureka is soliciting proposals from qualified restaurant/cafe’ operator(s) to establish a restaurant/cafe’ and retail seafood counter at the Fisherman’s Terminal Building located at #4 C Street and Waterfront Drive.” The announcement from the City continues, “An outdoor patio area for alfresco dining is also incorporated into the space. The restaurant/cafe’ is located at the east end of the Fisherman’s Terminal Building with unparalleled views of picturesque Humboldt Bay, and is adjacent to the newly constructed C Street Market square, the Madaket docking facility and Ticket Booth, and Old Town”. The announcement adds, “A low-interest loan may be available to a qualified applicant.”
This is a tremendous opportunity for some entrepreneur to play a major role in our waterfront revitalization, and a couple dozen have already expressed interest. To receive a complete Request for Qualifications package or ask any questions, contact Judy Harrison, Economic Development Coordinator, by email at email@example.com or call (707) 268-1830. Here’s some more info from Economic Development. Be patient if it takes them a while to get back to you; there are only
four 1.5 people in the section and this is a major undertaking. DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTAL IS JANUARY 31, so get busy and be a part of Eureka’s history! And make some money, too.
AIRPORT TURBULENCE: First, the good news, for frequent flyers anyway. The TSA has opened three enrollment centers to enable frequent airline passengers to pass through security more quickly. Once enrolled in the program, flyers will be excused from removing shoes, belts and jackets and from having to remove their laptops to display to the TSA screeners. What’s the catch? Well, they have to be fingerprinted and pay an $85 fee, good for five years. Where are these enrollment centers? At Sac International, Stockton and- wait for it- EUREKA!!! According to the AP, the centers went online on the 15th and, by the way, they refer to our airport as EUREKA, not that six-word name that I can never remember.
So that’s the good news. The bad is that airport usage from 2007 thru 2012 is wildly inconsistent, with SFO increasing by 27% and Oakland and Burbank DOWN by 31%. San Jose declined by 22% while Sacramento, which just opened its new $1B Terminal B (“B” for “Billion” I suppose) has declined by 18%. I find this puzzling. Who wouldn’t rather fly into Oakland or San Jose than SFO, given a choice? With the recession, the choices are realigning and becoming fewer in number. See the “Fly Humboldt” Facebook page for more info. Also, Ms. Emily Jacobs, Administrator at ACV, has promised us an update on airline recruitment efforts in the near future. So watch this space!